Cowboys with Berets: Changing the Face of Uruguay Grazing

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Written by Savory Champion, Gary Richards

You know you’re in a place heavily influenced by tradition when the distinguished cattle rancher and veterinarian points with pride to his grandfather’s picture on the wall of the local farm and ranch association office. The wall is lined with such photographs, some going back a hundred years.

We are in the land of the gaucho. Traditionally a gaucho is viewed as a brave, proud and strong individual with an intense belief in hard work and justice. That’s a great set of characteristics, but it presents a challenge if you think you might want to influence their grazing practices.

But wait; who are “We” and why are we here in this office?

“We” are a small group of local residents in the Maldonado “Departamento.” Those familiar with Savory principles would call us a learning group. We call ourselves, Tierra Regenerativa Uruguay. Our membership includes ranchers, business people, and what one might call a political activist.

We came together a few years ago, united by concerns about our local drinking water quality and watershed health. It was clear that agricultural chemical runoff was a significant contributor to the problem. Further study showed that agricultural chemicals were also implicated in broader Uruguayan health issues.

Discussions with government agency managers, political leaders, and academics went nowhere. There were well-meaning people and even some attempts at remedying the situation. But it was clear that this type of intervention was not viable, at least not in our lifetime.

We decided to go to the people who actually make the decision to apply chemicals to the ground—the local farmers and ranchers. We adopted a respectful tone, hoping to learn more about their issues and to find out if there might be ways for them to voluntarily reduce their chemical contribution to the water problem.

We were acutely aware of the cultural background and the difficulty we faced in attempting to affect it (see above regarding the gaucho culture and the “brave, strong, proud individual.”) We could not simply point out what we believed to be shortsighted management practices and expect to get a positive result.

So, we adopted a policy of “co-learning” and “sharing new knowledge.” We did not see our local farmer/rancher neighbors as the enemy. We did not wave signs at the government agencies calling for bans on agricultural chemicals. Instead, we found examples of successful farmers and ranchers who had gradually weaned themselves off of chemicals and in the process improved their soil and their bottom line.

During this time we came across the Savory Ted Talk. It gave us a new sense of direction. One of our members had studied Allan Savory’s books, going back to 1988. Incidentally, she now owns the cattle ranch that the local veterinarian’s grandfather sold her decades ago.

Our course was now clear: we would focus on Savory principles.

We began our studies in earnest, devoting what time we could spare from our busy lives. We signed up as Savory Champions, started reading, and started learning about Holistic Management.

The Savory Global team was tremendously supportive; in particular, Abbey Smith gave valuable insights, advice, and contacts. She introduced us to Pablo Borrelli, accredited Savory International educator from nearby Argentina.

When the opportunity arose to assist Borrelli in producing a two-day introductory course right here in our back yard, we jumped at the chance. The original sponsor, young Pablo de los Santos, had hit some bureaucratic walls and the course was about to be canceled.

Pablo Borrelli said we would need to produce at least 10 attendees to make it feasible to stage the event. So we went to work, contacting everyone we knew who might be interested. To our astonishment, the word-of-mouth factor kicked into high gear when it became clear that we were talking about Allan Savory and Holistic Management. It didn’t hurt that he had been selected as a keynote speaker at the nearby 2016 World Meat Congress convention.

We got more than 70 confirmed participants in a matter of a few weeks and arranged the meeting hall (you guessed it, the 100-year old local farm and ranch association, Sociedad de Fomento Rural e Industrial de Maldonado.)

We lined up publicity, including press and TV coverage (all we had to do was mention “Savory.”)

Pablo Borrelli lived up to his stellar reputation. For two days he kept the participants involved, excited, and productive in a hands-on approach to learning. Several commented afterward that the course “changed their lives.”

  • As a result of the Savory Global program and its very effective support team, we now have:
  • A new learning group of Savory Champions in Uruguay,
  • A new group identity (Tierra Regenerativa Uruguay– with a website in development),
  • 70 new Manejo Holístico trainees,
  • A national television presence via Graciela Caffera’s Uruguay Natural TV (thank you Ariana Bolton-Richards for the connection!)
  • National print presence in the very important Uruguay newspaper El Observador, courtesy of Eduardo Blasina and Lautaro Perez Rocha,
  • A concept for corporate sponsorship of Holistic Management training scholarships (more on that later)

In short, we have traction! Most importantly, we understand that we are not offering solutions. Instead, we are promoting a proven method whereby our local farmers, ranchers, and gauchos can develop their own solutions in the context of their holistic goals.

Thank you to the Savory Global team for our fast and effective start here in Uruguay.

Warm regards,

–Gary Richards
–Patricia Cook
–Althea Ganly
–Alexandre Bardouillet

Co-Directors

More Pictures from the event:

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